Okay, after reading the following sentence, promise you’ll stick around and keep reading: Pretty Little Dead Things is about a man who can see and communicate with the dead. I know, I know, you’ve seen this one and, in the end, Bruce Willis is a ghost, but, seriously, don’t move and be still because this one is well and truly worth it.
Pretty Little Dead Things is about a man named Thomas Usher. About fifteen years before the story begins, Usher was in a car accident. Both his wife and daughter died in the crash while Usher came out of it with a rendez-vous with the rehab specialist and the ability to see the dead. Following his accident, Usher began working as a sort of paranormal investigator slash psychopomp for hire. He rid homes and businesses of ghosts by helping those lost souls to the other side. Wherever or whatever that might be.
Now, though, Usher has been off the supernatural stuff for awhile and focusing on the living, which leads him to a brutal murder, the disappearance of a young girl, and right back to the realm of the dead.
Thomas Usher is an intriguing and sympathetic character. He is a sad, guilt-laden man who carries the names of those he’s failed on his skin—literally. He sees and can communicate with the dead, but he cannot hear them. He’s like the supernatural equivalent of one of those black light gadgets used by the cops on CSI and Law and Order and such; able to see the violence and pain left behind. His role as a private investigator brings to mind Harry Angel of the movie Angel Heart (and book Falling Angel), and of John Constantine of the Swamp Thing and Hellblazer series of comics.
In fact, the England in which McMahon has set his story tells of all the economic and social atrocities of which Jamie Delano warned while writing Hellblazer in the late Eighties and early Nineties.
But Usher has none of Constantine’s arrogance and cockiness, and harbours at least three times the guilt. Usher is a man torn between what has been, what he is, and what will never be. Amazingly, McMahon manages to keep Usher from devolving into a sad-sack martyr, ensuring that he comes off as a fully realized character who genuinely wants to do good but knows that, given the circumstances in which he finds himself, he’ll never be able to meet his own high standards.
As he did in The Concrete Grove, McMahon hints at a dark world hidden just beneath the surface of our own. In The Concrete Grove, the membrane between nightmare and reality is not just worn thin but punctured and haemorrhaging darkness. In Pretty Little Dead Things, he offers us a slower, subtler bleed. The kind you don’t notice until your collar is soaked and your hair has begun to stick to the back of your neck. Pretty Little Dead Things is a more accessible read, not quite as heavily rooted in hallucinations and dreamscapes, but still painted with intense, highly effective and affecting imagery.
So, in the end, why is this particular tale about a man who sees dead people worth reading? Because a good writer can make anything new. Just as Sarah Langan made the haunted house story her own and Robert Jackson Bennett gave the revenge tale a new twist, Gary McMahon makes what seemed old and tired original and fresh.
Now, aren’t you glad you stayed and read?
Visit Gary McMahon’s website here.
Those of you who have enjoyed the titles included on the following list are likely to enjoy Pretty Little Dead Things. Likewise, if you have read and enjoyed Pretty Little Dead Things, you might want to try one of these: The Dead Zone by Stephen King; It by Stephen King; the Odd Thomas books by Dean Koontz; Keeper by Sarah Langan